Casey trade a TFC blunder

STEVEN SANDOR, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

Conor Casey has been one of the best, if not the best, strikers in Major League Soccer this season.

In 16 games, he has 11 goals. He has fought his way on to the roster of the U.S. national team. If his Colorado Rapids, who play Toronto FC in a key home-and-home series over the next two Saturdays, can make the playoffs, Casey will no doubt get some MVP votes.

Casey may be the worst trade on the resume of TFC's director of soccer Mo Johnston.

A month after signing the American forward, Johnston traded Casey to Colorado in April of 2007 for a third-round draft pick in '08, which the team used to pick Joseph Lapira.

Joseph who?

Casey played all of two games for TFC, both as a sub.

But the Denver native doesn't look back on his short stay in Toronto with bitterness. TFC brought in Casey, who had enjoyed a solid career in the German second division, with a lot of fanfare, but then quietly shipped him out. There was a lot more at play, though, than most fans know about.

"When I was with Toronto, I was a little banged up and had some knee issues," Casey said. "It didn't help training on the turf there, so it made it very difficult for me to do the day-in and day-out routine.

"But the other side of that is, I really enjoy being here at home. I was definitely happy for the move. I enjoyed my time there, but I don't think that means it was a bad decision for them to let me go."

The 6-foot-1 Casey has especially enjoyed playing in front of his hometown fans this season.

He and fellow attacker Omar Cummings -- with eight goals and 10 assists -- have combined to form the best 1-2 combo in MLS. Casey's numbers are painful for TFC fans to behold.

As he has become a regular in Colorado, TFC has burned through a series of failed strikers, from Collin Samuel to Carlos Ruiz, Jeff Cunningham to Jarrod Smith.

"It has been really great. Last year, we started to get into a groove late in the season and this year I think we were able to pick that right back up. It has been a great combination with (Cummings') speed and my size. We cause the defence a lot of problems and hopefully it continues to produce results."

TFC midfielder Carl Robinson remembers Casey well from the club's inaugural season, and said he was "100% sure" the striker would become an MLS star.

"When he was here with us, for some reason, he didn't play. He wanted to move on. I had no doubt he'd be a top, top player."

KEY GAMES

Toronto has to play in the rarefied air of Denver this Saturday, but it may get a break because Casey is expected to be training with the U.S. team. The striker will be back with the Rapids when the teams play Sept. 12 at BMO Field.

These are key games. TFC is currently in 11th spot with 31 points, two points out of the final playoff spot. Colorado is one of four teams occupying positions six through nine with 33 points. Colorado also has a game in hand on TFC.

In the MLS, the top two teams in the East and West get playoff spots, while the next four spots -- the five through eight seeds -- are all wild cards, given out to the clubs with the next best records in the league.

"They are games we have to win to stay in the post-season hunt," Casey said. "I still know some of the guys there from my time but the team has changed a lot as well. Really, this first one is just a home game we really need to win more than anything else."


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